IN the 1950s, the late United States evangelist Billy Graham published a book of questions he had been asked and the answers he gave to those questions. One lady spoke about her problem of having children with three or four men (no, she was not a Jamaican). She asked Graham what she should do about turning her life over to Jesus when her children were born as a result of her sins.
Billy Graham responded that, as far as the children were concerned, "you cannot unscramble eggs". In other words, she had to cope with the problem as best she could. And even in those circumstances, one had to be thankful for children, although the process by which they were born was not the desired way.
And speaking of giving thanks, today is the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy hitting eastern Jamaica as a category one storm on October 24, 2012. It ended up being a very dangerous category five hurricane by the time it hit New York. We should be thankful that lives were spared. Let us pray that we will not have any hurricanes this year.
Honouring our national heroes and those who receive the other honours is a way of giving thanks for services rendered. The late Allan George St Claver Coombs has been in the news lately. Apparently at the inaugural Allan Coombs lecture, Arnold Bertram, in the discussion that followed, agreed with someone about renaming the Sangster Airport in Montego Bay to Coombs International Airport. But we cannot unscramble eggs. The airport in Montego Bay is already named after Donald Sangster. I agree wholeheartedly with everything else Bertram said to the effect that Coombs has not been honoured enough if at all.
But we should not rename public entities that have been named in honour of ex-prime ministers and national heroes. If we do, then every time there are changes of government, every road, bridge or public building might be renamed.
Another 50 years should pass (making it 100 years in all) before we review such things. We should leave that to the generations to come but first we have to teach them some history.
The comment by Bertram drew at least 77 responses on the Jamaica Observer online. Some were simply emotional, as usual; some who are in the habit of referring to everyone as idiots, except themselves, had a field day. But the responders have unwittingly done the Coombs cause a very big favour. By bringing it more into the news, more people have been asking who was "Father Coombs", as he was called.
From my second article in the now defunct Jamaica Record, all the way back in 1988, I have been voicing my concern for the dearth in teaching history. This is the backlash from the emphasis on business subjects in schools, which started in the 1980s. The business class wants students to do subjects that are beneficial to their businesses, not what is beneficial to the individuals.
There are two individuals who can lay claim to making Bustamante who he was. One was St William Grant, who was the leader of the Jamaica chapter of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. It was on St William Grant's platform that Bustamante came to prominence as a fighter for the working class.
The other was Father Coombs. In 1937, Coombs founded the Northern Industrial Trade Union (NITU). When Bustamante founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in 1938, Coombs turned his NITU over to Bustamante, who incorporated it as the base of the BITU.
Between 1938 and 1942 there was a difference of opinion between Coombs and Bustamante on the one hand, and St William Grant and Bustamante on the other. Perhaps for different reasons, both Grant and Coombs parted company with Bustamante. Grant joined the People's National Party immediately, while Coombs remained an independent for about five or six years.
Coombs ran as an independent in 1944 and lost to Iris Collins (later Williams). There was no PNP candidate in North-west St James in 1944 as, indeed, there were no PNP candidates in the entire county of Cornwall. In 1944, the PNP only fielded candidates in 19 of the 32 seats then available. By 1949 Coombs was the PNP candidate in North-west St James and defeated Mrs Iris Collins-Williams.
In 1955, when the PNP won, Coombs won his seat again as he did in 1959. In 1955, Coombs was minister of communications and works and held that post until 1961, when he was dismissed. On Coombs's watch the Palisadoes (now Norman Manley) and Montego Bay (now Donald Sangster) international airports were built.
On Coombs's watch the Negril development took place, the latter being denounced by Bustamante as a colossal waste of money. Bustamante accused Norman Manley (then premier) of "throwing a million pounds into the swamps of Negril while poor people were starving". I have been told that the reason for Coombs's dismissal by then premier Norman Manley was that he gave a contract to his brother-in-law.
Nevertheless, Coombs, a semi-literate man of the people, was part of the 1938 struggle that catapulted into self-government and later Independence. Like St William Grant, Coombs died a pauper. In 1962, Coombs ran as an independent against Herbert Eldemire for the JLP and Howard Cooke for the PNP. Eldemire won and the JLP won the 1962 election. That brought the curtain down on the political career of Coombs, who died in 1969.
From very early in my writing career I have argued that the commission that awards honours should name roads, bridges and buildings. This business of naming buildings after politicians, save and except national heroes and prime ministers, should be discontinued. In any case, we need an impartial commission, like the electoral advisory commission, to deal with the system of honours.
Nevertheless, Allan George St Claver Coombs should be honoured by Jamaica. First, he should be posthumously given at least the Order of Jamaica, as should be the case with St William Grant. But leave the Sangster airport alone. That egg has already been scrambled.